Both infographics and data visualization are tools to visually represent data. They make it easier for audiences to grasp difficult concepts by communicating meaning through a visual summary. It is the level of narration where the forms diverge: data visualization will employ algorithms to directly represent vast quantities of data and make interpretation simpler, whereas infographics are constructed by a human to tell a story about the data–to summarize its context, its meaning, and its implications through designed elements. Even when quantitative content is included in an infographic, it is usually summative rather than representative in nature. The purpose of an infographic is to narrate complex information and its relationships, within which layers of textual and symbolic forms interact to create meaning for a viewer.
Rhetorically, infographics are tricky because their ethos is grounded in education, in their claim to and capacity for teaching precisely because they are data designed for consumption–packaged, branded, and easily distributed. These properties make infographics extremely valuable tools for public education but also susceptible to misuse.
When students understand how infographics work, they become savvy consumers and curators of information in all forms. It is also a good way for teachers to raise awareness of the inevitability and omnipresence of rhetoric in disseminating information and knowledge.
Beyond digital literacy, infographics and digital storytelling offer many opportunities and possibilities for the rhetoric classroom. First, it allows teachers to broaden the definition of a text and apply classical considerations to new media. Second, it offers a visual way to explore argumentation and discourse structure, giving students new perspectives for approaching composition and potentially–by making structures and strategies visible–heightening understanding of written arguments for different types of learners. Third, reasoning through and experimenting with design decisions and strategies can help students consider versions and revisions for efficacy in their own work.
This lesson plan can be easily incorporated into Unit 1, particularly areas of summary and synthesis of other sources, in its activation and application of the same questions and skills.
Students will learn to:
“Infographics, for better and for worse, are data designed for mass consumption: packaged, branded, and easily distributed.”
1-2 class periods
Internet, access to GoogleDocs Templates
Use storyboarding techniques to outline and represent narrative/argument structure and strategy
Access and Adaptability
Alt text has been generated for all infographics provided in this lesson plan. More detailed descriptions of infographics may need to be provided for visually-impaired students depending on how this lesson plan is implemented. The assignment can be completed without access to a computer; in fact, some may prefer pen-and-paper modes of storyboarding to the online tools offered here.
In class, the instructor will introduce infographics as visual stories, explaining their use as modern educational and awareness-raising tools that utilize graphic representation to present an argument. Instructors might want to compare information presented in infographic form to information presented in text or speech form to explore affordances and limitations, asking students why and in what cases they might choose infographics as a strategy over other methods.
Classes will then discuss infographics as rhetorical texts, identifying arguments and strategies. Below are a number of examples of infographics (or you can find your own). As with traditional texts in Unit 1, have students locate and restate the argument being made, contextualize the argument by providing background information, and describing the piece’s substance, tone, and arrangement of text and graphics. Description, Compare and Contrast, Order, Sequence, Chronological, Cause and Effect are a few ways students can consider information and flow structure. Bring student attention to interactions, and potentially tensions, between texts and graphics and identify where information is held vs. helped. It might be helpful to ask students what the designers wants the viewer to learn and what they want their viewer to do with the new information.
After viewing several infographics, begin asking students to identify patterns of presentation–common strategies, common structures, common styles, common images, etc. This can be done as a class or students can break into groups and talk over 2-3 different designs amongst themselves. Ask them to decide which infographics are more or less successful and why. As a class, think about why certain strategies may have been chosen and also why results may differ from the designer’s intention.
The point of storyboarding infographics is to think about strategizing relationships between visual and textual elements and also to think about order. Students may be challenged by the fact that infographics are not necessarily linear narratives. In these cases, they need to look for what stands out: What do you see first? What do you see second? Is there a progression of presentation after all?
Students will be asked generate a storyboard based on someone else’s work and then create their own storyboard using the same information but different elements. Storyboards allow students to engage with concepts of design without being expert designers or using complex software. The point, again, is to think about argument structure and the relationship between elements. Have students explicate their decision making. Why would they represent this stat differently? Why would they make this part stand out and mute this other piece?
Below are links for basic storyboarding guidelines. Students can use pen and paper or choose from a variety of online templates for storyboards. Google Docs Templates is a good place to find storyboard outlines others have used and is a good resource for students to find other types of documents.
As this lesson asks students to engage and experiment with unfamiliar tools and forms, it makes sense to have a less formal assessment. The following Likert scale questions could provide a baseline for measuring their engagement with key concepts and provide feedback.
1) The student produced legible, detailed storyboards.
2) The student identified the overall argument and method of the existing infographic’s story.
3) The student recognized rhetorical strategies within the existing infographic.
4) The student demonstrated understanding of method and strategies in their re-creation of the mentor text.
5) The student offered creative and meaningful alternatives to the existing infographic.